Makers Series: How famous photographer Jeremy Cowart made it big

Becoming a photographer is no easy feat. Becoming a famous one is even more challenging.

With easy access to high-quality cameras, endless competition, and a glut of photography accounts on social media, it’s become harder than ever to get work recognized and stand out from the crowd.

The photography industry is also seeing a decline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2026, employment is projected to decrease 6 percent.

So how do photographers “make it” these days?

We spoke with a famous photographer, Jeremy Cowart, to learn about how he did it. In our interview, we discuss how Cowart got famous, his ideas on how photographers can build a massive social following, advice for people who want to do photography but can’t afford it, and more.

What do you think really makes a good photographer?

Well, of course, it’s part talent and having a good eye — but I think it’s mostly the people who really know what they have to say and how to say it. You have to have a very specific vision in your work, and you also have to hustle really hard. It’s a combination.

Dancer by Jeremy Cowart
Dancer by Jeremy Cowart

How did you become a famous photographer?

I honestly just kind of stumbled into it. I was a graphic designer and needed a camera to start scanning pictures and things around me to put in my design work. Over time, friends of mine started asking for photo shoots for this or that, and I started doing a lot more of them.

A defining moment was when I was competing against a Hollywood agent and her photographers for a job, and ended up getting it over them. She called me and said, “You just beat me for a job, and I love your work. I’d love to represent you.” So that’s how I landed an agent — beating her for a job. She certainly was a huge boost in getting me noticed in California and New York.

You have an impressive social media following with 240K+ followers on Twitter and 140K+ followers on Instagram. How can other photographers follow suit?

It’s consistency and quality, and simultaneously posting something really interesting that no one else is doing.

And again, it goes back to what you want to say. There are so many good photographers now on Instagram. It almost becomes numbing to see so much good work all the time. I find it uninspiring.

I don’t actually follow many photographers because it’s just so much information. Instead, I follow illustrators and artists and feel like that better informs my photography. Looking outside of my industry keeps me thinking outside of the box.

Russell Westbrook by Jeremy Cowart
Russell Westbrook by Jeremy Cowart
Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere by Jeremy Cowart
Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere by Jeremy Cowart
Keith Urban by Jeremy Cowart
Keith Urban by Jeremy Cowart

How can photographers build their online presence?

I think the hustle outweighs everything. I’ve seen so many photographers over the years go from zero to 60 in no time, just cranking out amazing work. I really think that amazing work should be how you build your following. All of this marketing and social media talk sometimes can be a bit distracting and misleading because if you do great work, the rest will follow.

Do you have advice for people who want to do photography full time but can’t afford it?

It’s a hard, very hard journey.

Weddings are a good way to start making money. They’re also good in terms of learning quickly — you’re forced to learn how to shoot everything all at once. Portraits, groups, macro details, flowers, the list goes on. You have to become a landscape photographer to some degree. You have to shoot in bad lighting and super bright lighting.

You have to do it all and, not only that, do it under really stressful circumstances. It’s tough, but I think it’s a good way to make ends meet and get more experience.

What apps do you use to be productive?

I use the VSCO app. The creators are longtime friends of mine, so I use their app to edit my photos. I also use an app on my iPad called Procreate, which is for sketching, painting, and illustration.

How do you think photography connects people?

Photography marks a moment in time. Especially now with social media, it’s connecting us for better and worse. Seeing each other’s pictures all day can spark some inspiration and creativity, but it can also spark jealousy and all kinds of other things. It’s a tool at the end of the day. I can’t say it’s all good or bad; it’s both.

Jeremy with his wife and children

How do you think photography has changed over the years?

Social media is radically changing photography — the art of it and the way it’s presented. It’s both exciting and really alarming. It’s exciting because everybody can enter so quickly with a phone and take pretty remarkable images. It’s alarming because it’s harder than ever to make a living since there are so many photographers who have discovered the same thing.

I just read that the top camera companies, such as Canon and Nikon, saw massive drops in camera sales over the last year, and I don’t think that’s good for the industry. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

Can you tell us about your new book and what photographers can learn from it?

I’m Possible is a book about 40 years of my life story as an artist and photographer.

When I was a kid, I didn’t think I could do much — I got fired from my first job and nearly failed one of my photography classes. The book is about overcoming setbacks, fears, and insecurities. It’s about finding success as a photographer but then realizing that success doesn’t really matter.

So what does matter?

It’s a journey to find an answer to that question. I think creatives of all types will enjoy it — not just photographers.

Annabel is a Marketing Communications Manager at JotForm. She’s passionate about writing and has worked in communications roles domestically and internationally. When she’s not blogging about SaaS or online forms, she enjoys international travel, loud concerts, and artisan coffee. You can reach Annabel through her contact form.

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